Eating Vegan in the Holy Land

    I recently got back from my birthright trip in Israel where I saw beautiful things, met amazing people, had so much fun, and of course, ate a ton of great food! As with any travel experience, I was worried about the availability and quality of vegan options, especially in a country whose language I didn’t speak a word of! (Okay some words, like shalom and todah!) It turned out, I had nothing to worry about. Israel is probably the most vegan-friendly country in the world, which makes a lot of sense, given the Jewish cultural commitment to do good and repair the world (tikkun olam). Most of Israel’s national foods, such as falafel, are vegan. If you’ve never had falafel, it’s fried balls of mashed chickpeas in a pita bread with hummus (pureed chickpeas) and tahini (pureed sesame seeds). Israelis are big fans of chickpeas and sesame seeds — after you go, you will be too!

Falafel, the national food of Israel

     Another delicious sesame treat is halva. Two of the most popular desserts in Israel are halva and baklava, both are usually vegan, just ask if there is kalavi (dairy) in it. Baklava in sheets might be more likely to have dairy while baklava in rolls usually didn’t. Halva is a crumbly sesame butter candy, usually sold in slabs and flavored with nuts, or anything really! Baklava is a dessert made with phyllo dough and nuts. Both are delicious and now I crave them constantly!

Baklava in shuks is usually sold like this, rolled up and with a shredded phyllo outer layer
Halva looks weird but it tastes so so so good!
    The most popular snack in Israel, Bamba, is also vegan. Bamba is basically puffed corn. The best way to describe it, as agreed upon by our group, is that it has the shape and texture of a cheeze doodle but the flavor of a peanut. It sounds weird, but it’s super addictive. I managed to smuggle 5 bags through US customs. 
My apologies to those with pesnut allergied who will never experience the magic of bamba

   So without even trying, Israelis eat mostly vegan food! If that isn’t enough, you can find vegan food pretty much anywhere you go using the word “tivonoot” (hebrew for vegan). Pretty much every single restaurant we went to, from local cafés to mainstream chains, had a tivonoot section on their menu. Even in the middle of the Negev desert, sleeping in a Bedouin tent, my vegan friend and I were able to request a tivonoot meal! The airline, El Al also had pretty good vegan meals, just make sure you request ahead of time. And if you’re in a Kosher place, they don’t serve meat and dairy at the same time. So being careful to avoid eggs, this means the vegetarian option on “meat night” is usually vegan. My friend and I were really excited when we realized our hotel was serving meat with ice cream for dessert so we asked and yup, the ice cream was vegan!

The Negev desert in Israel — don’t worry, I didn’t have to wander for 40 years to find vegan food!

   In addition to halva, baklava, falafel and bamba, I have a couple more reccomendations for you, in case you make the very smart decision to travel to the holy land. In the shuk (market) in Jerusalem, our group’s rabbi reccomended Ha’Agaas to us. Ha’Agaas is a tiny vegan restaurant, advertising “the best hummus is Jerusalem” (really it was the best hummus in the world). They serve it with chickpeas that have had something, I don’t know what, done to them to make them taste amazing, and for some reason sulfuric. On the side you can have tasty zucchini patties and soy balls (ovals?) that they display up front (just trust me). And in Tel Aviv go to Agadir burger and have their veggie burger sliders. Best veggie burger I’ve ever had! I had to make my friend taste test it to make sure I hadn’t been mistakenly served a non-veggie burger! 

The hummus at Ha’Agas — you can see the magic chickpeas on top

“Veggie” (I’m still in doubt) burger at Agadir

   I was happy to find that is was even easier, and more delicious, to be vegan in Israel than America, which is not usually how I feel when traveling away from home. My tastebuds and I can’t wait to go back! 

[Pictures not mine— I forgot to instagram my food — I know, I know, am I even American?!]

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